Beef focus: A feed bill of $10,000/month to deal with a 20-month drought in the US

In this beef focus, AgriLand recently visited Steven Anderson – a Beefmaster cattle breeder – located in the Panhandle region in Texas; the visit was arranged by Alltech as part of ONE19: The Alltech Ideas Conference.

An Irish delegation of farmers and industry representatives travelled to Texas and New Mexico, which included visits to the Wrangler Feedyard and Tulia Livestock Auction.

Steven runs a herd of 150 spring and autumn-calving registered Beefmaster cows alongside a number of Angus-cross cows which are used as recipients after embryo transfer. Interestingly, the farm is stocked at one cow per 30ac.

Beefmaster cattle were the first American composite breed (combination of three or more breeds) and are made up of Brahman (50%), Hereford (25%) and Shorthorn (25%).

Every year, 12-15 Beefmaster cows are flushed which costs approximately $1,500/cow. However, Steven explained that conception rates can vary.

“Going in with fresh you are looking at 70-75%, but with frozen you are looking at 50% – that’s if you are doing it conventional,” he said.

“But, if you are doing in vitro fertilisation (IVF), fresh is about 50% and frozen you would go to 30%.”

All bulls are sold for breeding, with some going to commercial ranches, while a number of bulls are sold to other registered Beefmaster herds. Heifers are also sold for breeding with some kept on the farm and used to replace culled cows.

Mr. Anderson also shows some of his pedigree cattle. He said: “This year was a great year for us. We had the grand champion bull, the grand champion female, the grand champion pair and reserve champion at the Houston Texas Show and Sale.”

The Beefmaster breed

First recognised by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1954, the breed is now one of the largest beef breeds in the US.

Steven noted that the breed is sometimes called a dual-purpose breed due to good-maternal traits – with good milk availability – coupled with good carcass and conformation traits.

They are also known as ‘drought masters’ as they can survive in extreme weather conditions – both hot and cold. Therefore, this breed is well suited to Steven’s farm, which has just gone through a drought that lasted almost “two years”.

The Beefmaster cows are very fertile and docile, and are generally light red to dark red in colour; they are also known for their easy-calving traits.

The majority of Steven’s herd calve unassisted; only two calves were pulled this spring. The herd is out for the majority of the year, so in winter they grow a “thick coat” which is then shed during the summer period.

Dealing with the drought

As already mentioned, the farm has just come out of an extended drought which occurred over the last two years.

While the paddocks have ‘greened up’, it was evident that there was a lack of rain for an extended period.

“Thankfully, I have had more rain in the last nine weeks than I had in 20 months combined; this is as green as I have seen it in May in 12 years – which is great,” Steven explained.

During the drought, “protein cubes” were fed. These 32% pellets consist of corn, cotton seeds, molasses and minerals. The total cost of the drought came to approximately $10,000/month for a 20-month period and the pellets were fed at 5.5kg/head.

Due to the extreme weather conditions, over this 20-month period, Steven received $4,000 in government funding – 40% of his feed bill for one month.

Herd management

Generally, calves are weaned at six-to-seven months; however, if the cows come under pressure the calves are reared at an earlier date. Furthermore, the calves are treated for BRD, IBR and clostridial diseases.

Some breeding heifers are sold at weaning, but the majority of heifers and bulls leave the farm at 12 months. “Really good” bulls are sold aged 20-27 months.

Replacement heifers are bred at 17 months and calve down at 26 months. Steven explained how the Beefmaster breed has replaced some of the more traditional breeds – like the Aberdeen Angus breed – in the region. But, he noted that the Aberdeen Angus breed is still popular in the Panhandle region.

“A lot of people are using the bulls to cross breed black cows for replacements and get the hybrid bigger. I also prefer to use cross breeds as recipients. My calves weigh approximately 75lb at birth [34kg], so I like the bigger cow.”

Similar to Ireland, Steven prefers a spring-calving system as – in a normal year – there is plenty of grass available for both the cow and calf.

“With spring calving, I don’t have to supplement feed as much plus weaning weights are better due to grass intakes.

“In the fall, the winter time hits and you have to feed a lot of hay and cubes [pellets], so it costs a lot more to calve the cows in the fall,” he concluded.